A year after his internationally acclaimed Timbuktu premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was met with much praise and acclaim, Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako returns for the 68th Festival (May 13-24), to serve as President of the Cinéfondation sidebar and Short Films Jury, marking a first for the director (heading a Cannes jury), and also the first time that a director of African descent has been asked to preside over a Cannes jury.
Born in Mauritania but brought up in Mali and trained in filmmaking in the Soviet Union – at the Moscow VGIK – Abderrahmane Sissako crosses cultures and continents. His work, imbued with humanism and social consciousness, typically explores the complex relations within, wrestling with the fate of a much-beleaguered continental Africa.
Sissako has a history at Cannes that includes “The Game,” directed during his final year at Film School, which was presented at La Semaine de la Critique in 1991, followed 2 years later by the medium-length “Octobre,” at Un Certain Regard. “Life on Earth” and “Waiting for Happiness,” both featured in the Directors’ Fortnight in 1998 and Un Certain Regard in 2002, helping to firmly establish the director on the international scene.
“Bamako,” a political parable, was screened Out of Competition in 2006,. It was followed, last year, by “Timbuktu,” which screened in Competition in 2014. The latter, a vibrant fictional protest against religious fundamentalism, was the first Mauritanian work to be nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.
“I would never want to make a film that somebody else could make, and I want to see films that I would never make. What’s important to me is the cinema of anonymity – addressing the conflicts but above all the suffering endured by anonymous people – empowering them and making them visible, testifying to their courage and their beauty,” Sissako says.
2 weeks ago, in France, at the 20th annual Lumières awards – essentially the French equivalent of the Golden Globes – Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” was a big winner, taking trophies in the Best Film of the Year and Best Director categories.
For those in the USA, you should know that Cohen Media Group released the film theatrically, starting late last month, on January 28. Check your local listings to find out if it’s playing at a theater near you currently. Although its release is a limited one, so it won’t be available to most of you – that is until its home video release on all the various platforms.
“Timbuktu” was inspired by the real-life story of the 2012 stoning of a young unmarried couple, by Islamists, in a Northern Mali town called Aguelhok. Their crime? They weren’t officially married, and thus, in the eyes of their executioners, were committing a crime against divine law. That summer, the couple was brought to the center of the town, placed in holes in the ground, and stoned to death in front of hundreds of watchers – a horribly tragic incident that drew international media attention, and motivated at least one filmmaker to address on film.
The President of the Cinéfondation and Short Films Jury, and the still-to-be announced 4 figures from the arts world who will accompany him on the jury, will award 3 prizes to films submitted by Film Schools to the Cinéfondation Selection, as well as the Short Film Palme d’or – to be presented during the Festival’s closing ceremony, on Sunday, May 24, 2015.